Smoke signals

Posted by Jenna Gallagher on March 14, 2013 |

The last time a pope resigned in 1415, it took a while for the word to get out. Maybe not so long as you would imagine – an Atlantic article speculates that people in large cities would have heard the news within a few weeks – but still, a lot longer than we have come to expect to receive news today. People in rural areas might never have known at all.

This time around, it took 30 days between Benedict XVI’s bombshell announcement and the plume of smoke seen ’round the world – literally, thanks to a live Vatican TV feed of the Sistine Chapel smoke stack that was hosted by every major news website ─ that signaled the election of Pope Francis I.

Even those who didn’t have a smoke cam streaming on their desktop yesterday probably got the news within a few moments of Francis I himself. (tagline: When the smoke goes up, you’ll know what’s going down) invited people to register to receive a text or email notification when the new Pope was elected; websites like offered a behind-the-scenes look at the College of Cardinals, the election rules and the frontrunners and, of course, there was PaddyPower, the Irish online bookmaker that’s already taking bets on the new pope’s successor.

Things were a little different within the walls of the Vatican. Because the cardinals are required to make their decision without any influence from the outside world, the wi-fi in Vatican City was temporarily blocked and connected cardinals were sternly warned to abstain from the earthly temptations of Facebook, Twitter and
mobile phones.

That meant that until the election, no news came in, no news (but black smoke) went out – leaving pope-scopers to look for symbolic portents, such as the seagull who took up residence near the Conclave Chimney and has at least two Twitter accounts here and here.

This mix of old world auguries and modern technology could itself be interpreted as a metaphor for the path the Church walks, but I will leave it for far more theological minds than my own to hash that one out. I do know, however, that yet again social media allowed us all to feel part of something huge and history-making.

As news of the smoke ignited a wildfire of breaking news, some erroneous (Iran’s state television said “HABEMUS PAPAM” had been named the new pope), Albers’ own Julie Swartz was attending her daughter’s school play at St. Cecilia’s Catholic School in Omaha.

While the cathedral bells peeled in celebration of the new Jesuit pope, local journalist Erin Grace, who happened to be there for the play, started interviewing the audience, many of whom were eighth grade boys who will be attending our local Jesuit high school next year.

Said one parent, “I think a Jesuit would make a great pope and lead the world’s Catholics with compassion, intelligence and a sense of humor.”




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